As a relief pitcher, it is never easy to come into a game with your team already down 7-1. But your job is always to attempt to keep the score where it is to give your guys a chance to come back.
Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf was able to do that Sunday in the Nationals’ 9-2 loss to the Dodgers. In a game that was decided early, it is sometimes easy to forget the contributions of a long reliever in keeping the game from getting further out of hand.
Ohlendorf went six innings and allowed just two runs on six hits, with one walk and six strikeouts. He felt good, under the circumstances, that he was able to help his team in a game that was almost out of reach.
“I was really glad I was able to pitch so long,” Ohlendorf said. “It was a tough game for us. It is my job as the long guy to save the bullpen and I am glad I was able to do that.”
Manager Davey Johnson, who made seven calls to the bullpen in the first two games of the series, was also pleased at the benefit Ohlendorf’s long relief appearance provided with a four-games series against the Pirates arriving Monday.
“He saved the bullpen,” Johnson said. “That was an outstanding effort. It was a good tune-up for Friday. He saved the whole bullpen. Bullpen was kinda beat up.”
Johnson confirmed that Ohlendorf would start one of the two games in the day/night doubleheader Friday against the Mets.
Ohlendorf said having to pitch six innings Sunday will also get him back into the mentality of starting games. He has started 73 games in the majors before this season. This year, he made 12 starts for Triple-A Syracuse and one other start this season for the Nationals. Ohlendorf believes Sunday’s long outing is good preparation for what he will have to undertake Friday.
“I think it will help,” Ohlendorf said. “Today, I hadn’t pitched a lot before. It will be nice to have a full five days to (prepare).”
Ohlendorf also was able to see something in his velocity he has not seen in a few seasons: 97 mph.
“I think it has been four years since I hit 97 mph, which is nice,” Ohlendorf said. “I felt like I pitched better when I backed off the last few innings. It is nice to know that I have that arm strength now.
“I feel a lot better. I have changed a couple of things but I don’t know what has caused it.”
Ohlendorf said hitting mid- to upper 90’s has a big secondary benefit to other pitches in his arsenal. That benefit began to reveal itself in the later innings Sunday against the Dodgers.
“When you are throwing harder, you do have a larger margin for error,” Ohlendorf said. “I think it makes your changeup better if your fastball is harder. Command was really important. When I was throwing harder in the first few innings, I left a couple of balls (up in the zone) that were a little too hittable. I felt my command was really good it the later innings.”
Ohlendorf will look to repeat Sunday’s performance on Friday against the Mets. This time he will start in the first inning.